Seafood may not immediately come to mind when we think of brunch menus, but more and more local menus are incorporating seafood beyond a bagel with lox. There are oysters at Boulevardier and catfish po’boys at Ida Claire, for instance. And no place embraces this more than TJ’s Seafood.
The original TJ’s opened in 1989, making this fishmonger a veritable institution in baby-faced Dallas. After Jon Alexis took over the shop for his parents, he relocated the original TJ's, opened a new one in Oak Lawn and turned them both into restaurants with a fish counter, instead of the other way around.
The Royal Lane location is housed in a strip mall, which doesn’t exactly encourage a nautical state of mind. But all that is forgotten inside, where a stately but serene dining room awaits. From light fixtures suspended by thick, twisting rope to sea foam green bench seats to pine-colored chairs, the room is one great maritime spa.
The menu ranges from the everyday (banana nut bread pancakes, $10) to the extravagant, with a $140 Siberian sevruga caviar service and a $115 seafood tower. Most of the dishes fall somewhere in between, necessitating disposable income but not a yacht’s worth of a credit line. Drinks, too, can be procured for a reasonable price — $5 gets a refreshing thyme-infused sangria, white cranberry mimosa or bloody mary oyster shooter.
Popular seafood items dot the menu: shrimp cocktail, charbroiled oysters spiked with lime crema, fresh tuna salad, fish tacos and grilled catch of the day. The Benedict follows suit with the addition of lump crab, while another classic gets the in-house treatment.
At our server's suggestion, we ordered the hickory and alder salmon bagel. The salmon is smoked on site and has a lovely, light perfume of smoke and a texture that is closer to baked salmon than its slick, commercially smoked equivalent. If only there had been more of it — the ratio of fish to cream cheese smear, sliced tomato and red onion was skewed in favor of the fixings, when all you really wanted was that salmon.
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A side of TJ's chowder featured not just tender, sweet clams but bits of shrimp, too. The seafood was bathed in a creamy, comforting and mellow broth, as delicious as it was simple.
Hungry for something on the more decadent and less familiar side? The honey butter Maine lobster fritters ($25) are a mouthful, both linguistically and in reality. Two tennis-ball sized fritters arrived at our table, their caramel-colored coatings glistening with molten honey butter. They're awkward looking — two balls on a plate hardly awaken the visual senses. But things get more interesting when the fritters are plied open to reveal a bounty of lump lobster. Surprisingly large pieces of buttery meat were held in place by a buttermilk batter that played a blessedly inconspicuous role, there simply to hold the treasured meat together in a feat of carbohydrate engineering. The honey butter tried to gild the lily but came off as out of place — better to let the already sweet lobster speak for itself.
Seafood in Dallas can be an expensive enterprise, but TJ's fresh seafood offerings at brunch don't have to cost as much as a car payment. Then again, a $115 seafood tower does sound pretty good after a couple bloody marys.
TJ's Seafood, 6025 Royal Lane